Early Music Weekend – Machaut Mass & Songs for a Parisian Spring

I found myself in Ithaca, N.Y., for a meeting at Cornell Saturday afternoon, so checked out the bulletin board in the Music Department building to discover that a student group was presenting a performance last night of Guillaume de Machaut’s Messe de Nostre Dame, the earliest complete mass setting to survive (from the 14th century) and one of my favorite pieces of “early music.”  I hastened to attend, of course.  Graduate student Lorraine Fitzmaurice put together her own little “Cornell Scholar Cantorum” to present this piece, and it was a delightful concert.   She recruited a dozen students (some undergrads, some graduate students) and they learned the piece quite well, presenting it with chants interspersed between the movements.  Before beginning the performance, she taught the audience how to chant the Salve, Regina hymn that she selected as postlude to the mass.  At the end of the mass, the audience rose and we chanted the hymn together with the chorus.  [Well, that’s one way to have the audience on their feet when they start clapping at the end! :))]   Altogether a special event.

Upon arriving back in the NYC early this afternoon, I found myself with sufficient time to attend the last Five Boroughs Music Festival presentation of the season, a collaboration with Parthenia (viol consort) and Blue Heron (Boston-based vocal ensemble) in “Songs for a Parisian Spring.”   The concert was at the Church of St. Luke in the Fields in Greenwich Village.  These “songs” were actually chorus works by Renaissance composers – Claude Le Jeune and Jan Pieterszoon Sweelinck being much in evidence.  The two ensembles were joined by guest-artists Emily Walhout (viol) and Henk Heijink (lute), and Blue Heron director Scott Metcalfe had his violin along as well.  The program was artfully constructed to alternate vocal and instrumental segments and provide a conspectus of the kind of music composed for home use during the 1500-1600’s.  It was all very well done, with great spirit, fine intonation, and some good humor in a few particularly wry madrigals by Le Jeune toward the end of the program.  As a “psalms” collector, I was especially gratified to hear several selections of psalms based on the Genevan Psalter (a prominent French translation by Clement Marot).

Five Boroughs Music Festival has now completed six season with distinction and I hope they will find the support to keep going, as these concerts distributed over all five boroughs of New York have provided an excellent showcase for many young performers (and composers, with last season devoted to the Five Boroughs Songbook of thirty commissioned pieces, which are available on a recording).  Kudos to 5BMF Artistic Director Jesse Blumberg and Executive Director Donna Breitzer!

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